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May 14, 2009


Dummy: A Dis-Play
Open Eye Figure Theatre

One might miss the theatre all together in light of the large footbridge across the street that seems to demand more attention the entrance. However, once inside it is like stepping into an old movie. The art on the walls has a hand made feel that demonstrates a personal quality and the stage is small and welcoming, allowing the viewer to choose their seats. I love when tickets are first come, first serve, there’s nothing more depressing than having to sit assigned in a bad spot. The stage is versatile. Every object has multiple uses and each is reintroduced throughout the entire performance. This is extremely effective in keeping me engaged in that I am constantly alert and aware of what is going on. I want to read the writing and follow the dynamic lighting as it reveals more and more to me with each minute. The use of balloons is very dramatic, allowing for sound, color, and emotion to be openly and successfully expressed whether the performers were celebrating, smelling, or destroying them with darts. In fact, one of the most pivotal moments was when the character of L stabs the character Leonard with a dart in the heart. The intermittent acts are beautiful breaths of entertainment that is simple but highly enjoyable and refreshing. It reminded me of old time cartoons, like Chuck Jones; from I believe the forties and fifties, when the littlest actions, such as an implied smile or shrug, would reveal everything, making the viewer feel intimate. Although, much to my surprise, very little dummies were used, the title is more appropriately a theme relating to the concept of humans as puppets. The music and lighting was surreal and I desperately would love to know how to come across some of my very own. The plot is amazing, invoking in me a wide range of emotions, I laughed hard, and came close to tears. I am looking forward to going again soon, and taking my family with me. Thanks for the heads up Laura ☺

May 10, 2009

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I thought that I had been as deeply moved by a movie as I would ever be. I also thought that I would never again forget that I was watching a movie. I think that if I had been watching The Diving Bell and The Butterfly alone, I would have paused it often for crying breaks.

After hearing about this movie in class, I really wasn't sure how successful the decision to shoot the movie in first-person, almost completely through the main character, Jean-Dominique Bauby's eyes, would be. Sometimes it seems like too many camera tricks and gimmicky techniques can really take a person out of the experience (breaking the fourth-wall, you might say). However, there was a moment, while he is talking in his thoughts in the voice-over that goes on through out the film, when he imagines his story becoming a stage play. I honestly remember thinking that I wasn't sure if I could imagine it visually, until I remembered that he already wrote his book, that it was turned into a movie, and then I finally realized that that was what I was watching. Instead of making you aware of the film, the way cinematic conventions are broken instead just made it feel like something other than a film.

It is very difficult to explain the experience. Mostly, the viewer only sees what Bauby would have seen from his locked-in state, and the camera is basically stationary from shot to shot. His thoughts, and the voice over of them, happen in real time. They are in direct relation to what is happening at the moment so it's like we are with him in his head, we see everything that is contributing to his thought process. As viewers, we are also disconnected from the people around him, and we are as helpless in the situation as he is. This creates such an intense connection... What is so meaningful to me is how even though he felt so completely alone, his words and the movie itself were able to put us inside of his head. I was so glad that he was at least very physically close to people who loved and cared for him during what seemed to be the majority of his time.

There were a few moments that I found to be particularly powerful in the way they were done. Bauby can only communicate through a series of blinks and since it is through his perspective, blinks look just like they do when you blink your own eyes. During one scene, Bauby talks to his father over the telephone. Afterwords, he is trying to say something--so you hear his therapist going through the alphabet and you know he is waiting to blink at the correct letter, but his eye is also beginning to fill with tears and everything gets blurry, but this is his only way of expressing himself and his desire to do so is so strong that he holds his eye open, and tears are rolling down my own face, and the camera holds the shot for so long until he finally blinks and the scene changes.
Another scene shows the moment when he has his stroke. This part is not shot through his perspective, and I think that was a very good directorial decision. This way, we are able to see both him and his son at the moment the stroke occurs. Bauby begins to act differently while he is driving with his son, and we the boy pulling back from his father in fear of what is happening to him, and we become aware that this is the very moment when he becomes totally isolated.

Watching the film, I become more and more grateful that he was able to find a way to communicate, that the people around him cared for him, and that he was able to express himself, share his consciousness with these people and with us. I feel like there is so much more to say on this movie, but I think I could go on for too long.


I definitely went into "Dummy-A Dis-play" with expectations. Ventriloquist dummies always make me think of cliche horror movies and other weak attempts at being creepy. "Dummy" was neither of these things and actually, the puppets had a relatively small role. Instead of being creeped out or disturbed, I was actually pretty bummed out by the end.
Somewhere in the beginning, the character Leonard said something to the effect of "the funniest thing is unhappiness." Throughout, various unfortunate things happened to Leonard, but they were executed with comedic timing and carried out like punch lines. Many people laughed at these moments, others didn't. Mostly, they gave me a bad feeling, but I don't think that people who laughed actually thought unhappiness to be funny. I think sometimes people laugh when horrible things are set up like jokes because they see the irony, like things that are so un-funny that it's funny. Maybe?

The performance was not long, maybe an hour, but the story seemed to cover so much time, and the characters of Leonard and El seemed to have grown and lived so much towards the end that I found myself missing the beginning, when everything seemed happier and more hopeful. Successful portrayals of the passage of time are so intriguing because it is so hard to grasp how the effect is achieved. I think it must rely a lot on the unconscious.

There were some visual aspects that I really appreciated. One was a board that covered in words which were then covered in balloons. The words weren't visible until an actor would throw a dart and pop a certain balloon. So at key moments, they would throw a dart at a balloon instead of saying a word out loud. The timing was practically perfect.
Anyway, by the end I remember there being much less laughter. Instead of being uncomfortable creeped-out, I was uncomfortably bummed-out, so I think the performance was very successful in it's look at humor and the idea of laughing at the expense of others.

May 5, 2009

Soap Boxing Grand Slam

Leaning on the wall in a dark back corner of the Artists Quarter last night, after my attempts to find an empty chair in a very packed and small venue failed, I saw what a series of local competitions over the past few months has narrowed down to the 9 best spoken word performers/poets the twin cities had to offer. There was an enormous range of styles represented in this group.
The first poet, although linguisticly impressive, stood very stiff and in a monotone voice recited a poem about apocolyptic prophesies of the grim fate of the human race. This was dramaticly contrasted by the next poet, whos poem was about his fantasies about platonic hugs with big black men. Unlike the first performer he was very animated and his performance felt like a hybrid between spoken word and stand-up comedy. Everyone had their own distinct style. One girl started soft, reading a resentful letter to her mother, and crescendoed into desperate plea of reconciliation with her mother who turned out to be terminally ill, sounding as if she was on the verge of tears. Another poet spoke in a victorian-esque style about his frusterations with dieting. There were a couple poets who's delivery was very aggressive and coupled with violent hand gestures, seeming to be influenced by hip-hop. Some of the poets spoke in very conversational tones, letting the words hold their own weight and not get lost in overly theatric delivery. My favorite poet, and the only one whos name i remembered (Sam Cook) performed a poem about throwing out old tennis shoes and jeans, using extremely rich language and a plethora of visceral and visual metaphors that made me drool a little bit. His delivery got louder and softer, faster and slower, at all the right moments. At the end of every poem selected judges from the audience would hold up score cards, but they gave almost everyone virtually the same exact score. I didn't see it so much as a contest as a showcase of various poetic and spoken performance styles.

May 4, 2009

playing for DUMMYs - Laura Lechner

I have been thinking about this little play for several days - I saw it Friday night, and I keep going back to images, moments, phrases, melodies that seem to haunt the world that Michael Sommers, Elise Langer and Bob Rosen have created as much as they haunted me. This "dis-play" brings together elements that I have seen Sommers explore again and again in his work; word play, both verbal and written in the form of various art objects, water, spinning objects and wigs. It's intriguing to see what an artist goes back to, what makes up his or her particular performance vocabulary. Using these tools, the dis-players conjure (a word that Michael frequently uses to describe his creation process) up a melancholy world, where people struggle with the expression of love, and the ventriloquist dummies know more about the human condition than the humans.

Melancholy is the word that keeps popping up when I think about Dummy, and when I have conversations about it with other people. To be melancholy isn't quite the same as being sad, or despairing, or being depressed. It have it's own ethereal, fragile quality, and it is in this fragility that Sommers and Langer's characters seem to exist. Langer's smile, as I think Kate pointed out, encapsulates this heart-breaking quality. I haven't seen a performance with this much pathos in a long time - pure, unadulterated emotion present on stage. Sommers uses the phrase "having the appearance of being real" in the show. I think, through the use of objects, imagery and text, that Dummy gets very very very close to approaching the real.

May 2, 2009

DUMMY, A Dis-Play

DUMMY is a new work by Michael Sommers with Elise Langer and Bob Rosen, one of the co-founders of the Theatre de la Jeune Lune. From the Open Eye site: Sommers has taken his inspiration for Dummy from the world of late 1950’s—early 1960’s children’s television programming, and its influences of burlesque, parlor tricks, gags, and carnival games.

DUMMY effortlessly combines the comedic with the tragic. Objects live in the world that Sommers created. Balloons transform into flowers, hearts, eyes, dreams. A cigarette becomes a dancer. Hands and fingers are legs with attitude. Suitcases are worlds within worlds. There is very little dialogue and the play is threaded together by a series of vignettes with Sommers as Leonard, Elise as Elle and Bob as a headless man with the ability to manifest objects from his fabricated body. No psychology is present, no comments on actions. It exists because the people and objects exist. It breathes because the humans and objects breathe. Both humans and objects dictate action. The world contracts and expands by the very objects that are present. Elise gives a charming performance as Elle. Her smile is both joyous and melancholy, as if she hides behind her gleaming bright red lipstick. Her treatment of the objects shows her respect for their ability to define Elle.

DUMMY is not a selfish performance. It plays and invites you to see and play. DUMMY takes an object, like the balloon, and attempts to exhaust its every possibility. Sommers, Langer and Rosen create a world, choose an idea and explore as many facets of that idea as possible.

Hunger- A Sensual Experience

Hunger is a film of the senses. Steve McQueen's first feature-length film focuses on the last six weeks of Bobby Sands' life in the Maze Prison at Belfast in 1981. Michael Fassbender plays Bobby Sands and gives one of the best physical performances I have ever seen.

Most of the film stays on the cell block where Sands and other IRA members are harassed, humiliated, brutalized and treated like sub-humans by the guards of the Maze prison. Hunger is structured into the three parts: the first part, which is mostly silent, introduces the viewer to the Maze prison and the perpetual torture the IRA prisoners endure; the second part is a 17-minute static shot between Bobby Sands and Father Moran where Moran and Sands argue over the moral and political implications of the hunger strike that begins with Bobby; and the third part chronicles the decline and deterioration of Sands' body over 66 days.

The film begins with clanging pots on asphalt which crescendoes to a high-pitched reverberation that overwhelms the aural senses. We then meet one of the prison guards in his bathroom at home soaking his wounded hands in a sink. McQueen lingers on the day-old wounded hands to invoke the sting one feels when he or she puts fresh wounds under water. The prison guard eats his breakfast, at his table, by himself and McQueen films the crumbs falling from his mouth to the napkin under the table. McQueen enters the Maze prison and we see the maggots, the feces, the piss, the scarred bodies. The feces smeared on the wall. Rivulets and lakes of piss in every pore and crack in the prison. Maggots feasting on feces, devouring the remnants of human waste. McQueen's camera does not flinch. We see it, we taste the sourness, we smell the debilitating stench, we can feel the wounds on the body. This is no longer just a prison cell, it is a place of protest.

We see a prisoner at the barred window attempting to caress a buzzing fly. I could feel the tickle of the wings and the legs. It is scene about touch and the humanity of a soft touch. I see the doctor attending to Sands' sores and feel the bite every time he rubs a white, viscous creme on his open wounds. Bobby touches his skeleton and I can hear his bones rearrange.

Steve McQueen is truly a visual artist. Sometimes it seems he overstays his welcome, but he allows the viewer to
process what he or she sees without interruption. McQueen begs us to ask the question: How can a human being protest when his only resource is his own body? McQueen does not cast Sands in a heroic light, nor does he see Sands' act as a selfish one. The phenomenal scene between Sands and Father Moran complicate the viewer's notion or idea of Bobby's motives for going on the hunger strike. Moran poses legitimate questions that demand thoughtful answers. Sands responds (I paraphrase here) "I have an unyielding love for a united Ireland. It is not the only thing I can do. It is the right thing to do."

Never has a film demanded or sustained my undivided attention. Hunger is probably the best and most astounding work of art that I have ever experienced or perhaps ever will.